The Niagara River’s famously beautiful Horseshoe Falls is truly a wonderful sight. But if you look upriver before the falls, you might notice a rusted out hulk of a scow that looks like it’s been sitting on the river for a century.
That’s because it has been.
Two workers from the Buffalo, New York were doing a regular day’s work of dredging silt from the mouth of a canal that diverted the river to hydraulic power generators when they suddenly broke loose from the tugboat and began to float toward the falls.
Not many people survive going over Niagara Falls and those who do call it a “miracle.” But in 1918, the number of people who survived was two, the first being a 62-year-schoolteacher who went over in a wooden barrel.
Going over Niagara Falls will drop your body 187 feet into the rocks and water. You might get to the bottom of the river and not make it back up. If your body survived the impact, the freezing water would give you 15 minutes to get out before you began suffering from hypothermia.
The scow was beached on a sand berm when the tugboat came to release it and bring it back to shore. As the towing commenced, the rope between the boats snapped and sent the scow hurtling toward the falls. Luckily, it ran aground on some rocks in the river, 650 feet from oblivion.
Unable to reach the men by boat, Canadian firefighters were able to get a lifeline to its two crewmembers as the U.S. Coast Guard was dispatched to rescue them. The Coast Guard was able to get a lifeline to the iron dredging boat and the two men climbed to safety. The entire rescue operation took 17 hours due to tangled lines.
It was Canadian World War I veteran William “Red” Hill Sr. who climbed out to untangle the lifelines throughout the night. He’d only been back from the war for four days when he made the rescue.
Unsure of what to do with the iron hull, not knowing who would pay for a costly dismantling operation or if it was even worth the risk and effort, the Coast Guard did what anyone with a little common sense would do: leave it there.
The scow sat on the rocky shoal that miraculously saved its two crewmen for more than a hundred years. In 2019, a powerful storm raised the water levels of the river and freed the scow from the shoals.
The rusting iron mass shifted from the rocks and floated closer to Horseshoe Falls, flipping onto its side 50 meters closer.
In the years since the 1918 accident, around 5,000 bodies have been found at the bottom of Horseshoe Falls, either suicides or as stunts to survive the trip. An estimated 25% of those daredevil attempts end in death.
One of those daredevils was William “Red” Hill, Jr., the son of the valiant rescuer of the two men trapped on the scow. In an effort to honor his daredevil father, the younger Hill went over the falls in a barrel, dying in the attempt.
“War ends only when it has carved its way across cities and villages, bringing death and destruction in its wake,” Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev wrote President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Americans are pretty lucky when it comes to where they are on the map. Only a handful of times in the country’s history has war ever come home to its cities and villages.
The Revolution, the British burning Washington, DC, the Civil War, Pearl Harbor, and 9/11 are just a few attacks on American soil that come to mind — luckily, the Cuban Missile Crisis ended without that kind of a conflict. The aforementioned attacks are also spread out across the nation’s nearly 250-year history.
Other nations aren’t so lucky.
Here’s an ink drawing from the 1600s.
Belgrade, the capital and largest city in Serbia (the former Yugoslavia), is one of those who has not enjoyed such luck. Its location on the crossroads of the Sava and Danube Rivers and its fertile valleys means it will always be an attractive area to any potential invader.
But it’s also right on the path from European Turkey into the heart of Western Europe. You can’t invade the Middle East from Europe without going through Belgrade and, as logic would have it, you can’t invade Europe from the Middle East without passing Belgrade either. All told, the city has been completely destroyed and rebuilt 44 times and has seen 115 different wars.
It’s amazing just how many different art styles throughout the years depict the destruction of Belgrade.
Here’s an Ottoman miniature of another Siege of Belgrade.
Flashback to pre-historical times: As mentioned, a land so well suited for growing crops is going to be settled rather quickly by the early Slavic farmers of Europe. The area’s inhabitants were first known as Thracians and Dacians before the area was conquered by Celts, who ruled for more than 200 years.
Until Belgrade was captured by Rome.
To be fair, Attila razed cities like it was his job. Because it was.
Rome held the city for some 400-plus years until the Roman Empire was split in two. Roman Dacia was on the edge of the Eastern Roman Empire and they could not protect it properly. In 441, the city we call Belgrade was captured and razed by Huns, who sold its population off into slavery.
The Huns held the city for more than ten years before the Romans could come recapture it, but it was soon taken again, this time by Ostrogoths. It was quickly captured and retaken in succession by the Eastern Romans, Avars, and later, Attila the Hun.
“Here they come… Shit, there goes the city. Again.”
After Attila, the Romans (now called Byzantines) wrestled for control over the city with Avars, Gepids, Hungarians, and Bulgarians for some 400-plus years. The city saw armies of the first, second, and third crusades march through it as the Serbian Empire began to establish itself in the area. That empire was relatively short-lived, however, and Belgrade was firmly in Hungarian hands.
Until it wasn’t. The site became a focal point for the ongoing Ottoman-Christian struggle in the Balkans. Eventually, the Ottomans captured the city, destroyed it, and sent its Christian population to Istanbul in chains. But it thrived under Turkish rule and became an appetizing target for the rising Hapsburg Empire based in Austria.
The two powers fought over the city of Belgrade all the way through the First World War, even though Serbia was an independent kingdom for much of the time.
Who not only mine the streets, but also spray paint the old buildings. Good work, a-hole.
After World War I, Serbia becomes part of the greater Yugoslavia, which was great for Belgrade until Yugoslavia joined the Axis pact. The citizens rebelled and declared the twenty-something (and anti-Axis) Peter II the rightful king and the one calling the shots on Yugoslavia’s foreign relations. The only answer the Axis had was to bomb the sh*t out of Belgrade and invade with literally every Axis power available.
“Leave us alone, literally everyone ever!”
Of course, this means the city had to be retaken by the Allies, who decided to bomb the city into oblivion… on Easter. It was then captured by the Red Army and Communist Partisans under Josip Broz Tito. The city (and Yugoslavia) remained firmly in Tito’s good hands until the Balkan Conflicts of the 1990s, where it was bombed by NATO forces.
Imagine Games of Thrones comes to life in the Vatican but with good writers. Of the 19 popes who took office during the Renaissance, not a single one of them was canonized, or even regarded as Venerable or Blessed. The Renaissance Papacy, which spread from the end of the Western Schism in 1417 and the Protestant Reformation in the second half of the 16th century, was an ear of wealth, corruption, nepotism, debauchery and unprecedented political power for the papacy. Plots, alliances, briberies, betrayals and murder were common occurrences in the corridors of the Roman palaces. Theology had little to do with the results of the elections. Everybody’s gangsta until the Pope has you assassinated.
Mo’ money, mo’ prayers
Indeed, one of the most famous Renaissance popes is the notorious Alexander VI, previously known as Rodrigo Borgia. His talent for intrigue and appetite for women of a shaky moral compass are far more renowned than his piety. Although a golden age for papal supremacy, papal moral prestige experienced a sharp decline during the Renaissance. Adrian VI, who was Pope for one year only, said mass every day of his papacy, but there is little to no evidence that Julius II and Leo X, the previous popes, ever celebrated mass. That abandon of religiosity was an important factor in the rise of Martin Luther’s Protestant doctrine, eventually leading to a new religious schism.
According to the prominent historian Eamon Duffy, “the Renaissance papacy invokes images of a Hollywood spectacular, all decadence and drag. Contemporaries viewed Renaissance Rome as we now view Nixon’s Washington, a city of expense-account whores and political graft, where everything and everyone had a price, where nothing and nobody could be trusted. The popes themselves seemed to set the tone.”
The “OG” mafia families
During that time, the papacy was a popularity contest worthy of a reality TV show. The College of Cardinals, the entity in charge of electing the pope, was composed in the majority of members of the most powerful families in Italy and representatives of the Catholic monarchies of Europe. To play the game one must use nepotism, trade of favors and influence. During the Renaissance Papacy, the Houses of Borgia, Della Rovere, and Medici each saw two of their members elected as pope. These houses were the mafia of the Italian Renaissance, using their influence to place their own family members in a position of power and to brutally eliminate their rivals. The bloody ascension of Ceasar Borgia is a perfect representation of the atmosphere of the time.
Don’t hate the player, hate the game
In order to curry the favor of the people and expand their finances, the popes of this period extended the sale of indulgences, ecclesiastic favors that could absolve the buyer of his sins. They also encouraged the humanist trend and slackened the reins of morality, allowing for greater freedom of thinking and even greater debauchery. The popes also became patrons of the arts. It’s under their influence that artists such as Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and Raphaël flourished. Sixtus IV (reigned 1471 to 1484) even commissioned the Sistine Chapel, one of the most beautiful building of the catholic world to this day.
The path to papacy often involved no small amounts of political alliances, bribery, favors and the occasional murder. Wealth, influence and a devious intellect will get you elected instead of devotion. However, the popes elected in such a treacherous atmosphere did not stay in office for very long. Out of the nineteen popes, only five staying in power for more than ten years, and six help the office for five years or less.
Money, dazzle and backstabbing made the ascension to papacy quick, but it did not help to keep the job. As swiftly as you became pope, plotters would see you leave just as quickly.
There have been many closely-fought battles that could have gone either way.
The Battle of Midway was one. The final outcome of Japan losing four carriers and a heavy cruiser compared to the United States losing a carrier and a destroyer looks like a blow out. But that doesn’t reflect the fact that the Japanese fought off five separate attacks before Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers fatally damaged the carriers Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu.
Other battles, though, were clearly blowouts from the beginning. As in, you wonder why the losing side even wanted to pick that fight in the first place. Three of these battles were so one-sided, they were labeled “turkey shoots.” Here’s the rundown.
1944: The Marianas Turkey Shoot
Within four days of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese captured Guam. Two and a half years later, the United States Navy brought the Army and Marines to take it back.
In the Yom Kippur War, the Syrians and Egyptians surprised the Israelis with very good ground-based air defenses. The Israelis overcame that to win, but it was a very close call. When Syria and Israel clashed over Lebanon in 1982, three years removed from the Camp David accords, it was the Syrians’ turn to get handled roughly.
In the nine years since the Yom Kippur War, Israel started adding F-15 and F-16 fighters to their arsenal, but the real game-changer for the two-day battle of June 9-10, 1982 was the E-2 Hawkeye, which was able to warn Israeli planes of over 100 Syrian MiGs.
Final score over those two days: Israel 64 Syrian jets and at least 17 missile launchers, Syria 0.
1991: Desert Storm
While the air campaign was noted for what some sources considered a perfect 38-0 record for the Coalition (recent claims that Scott Speicher was shot down by an Iraqi MiG-25 Foxbat notwithstanding), there was one other incident called a “turkey shoot.”
Civil War POW camps were some of the most terrible, squalid places of the entire war. Massachusetts’ Fort Warren was an exception, however. It was used to house Confederate political prisoners and other high-value persons. Among those held here was Alexander Stephens, the Confederate Vice-President, as well as Confederate diplomats and even the Confederacy’s Postmaster General.
Legend has it that Melanie Lanier, the devoted wife of a captured Confederate troop, discovered his location via a letter he mailed her from the island prison. She immediately moved from Georgia to just outside Boston, Massachusetts, in the first step of an attempt to free her husband from the fortress.
One night, she boarded a boat that would take her to George’s Island – where the infamous prison camp and fortress were located. With the boat, she took a pickaxe, a pistol, and a length of rope in order to free her husband. She sat in the boat just offshore, waiting to hear any kind of signal from her beloved. That’s when she heard a common southern song, the signal that her husband was ready for action. But tragedy would soon strike.
As she and her husband made their way off the island and back to the waiting boat, she was surprised by a Union guard. She was able to subdue the sentry at first, using her pistol. But the guard only went along with the plot for so long. He attempted to overpower the woman and snatch the pistol away. In the scuffle, the gun went off, shooting her husband and killing him. She was overcome by the sentry and captured. Sent to the gallows, she requested to die in women’s clothing. All that could be found for her was a black mourner’s dress.
Melanie Lanier died by hanging not long after the botched escape attempt. Her body is said to be buried on George’s Island with others who died there. But unlike the others, Melanie is said to still be seen around the island at times, still clad in black and mourning her husband.
While many have claimed to see Fort Warren’s “Lady in Black” over the years, some doubt she existed at all. Such an escape attempt would have certainly ended up in Northern newspapers at the time, but no evidence of Lanier could be found. Furthermore, there’s another apocryphal story that could also be just as true. After World War II, the U.S. government was selling off all of its military possessions, and Fort Warren was one of those sales. Some say that in order to keep the historic fort from falling to a developer’s bulldozer, Edward Rowe Snow made up the story of the Lady in Black to make the island seem like much less of a steal.
It was later turned over to the National Parks Service.
Middle Eastern oil, the happy kind. (Go90
Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)
Host August Dannehl toured a Palestinian-owned olive farm in the West Bank that was being guided by consultants from the
Near East Foundation and USAID’s Olive Oil Without Borders project. Similar aid was being offered to neighboring Israeli olive farmers and, far from begrudging the competition, the Arab farmers seemed relieved just to be able to get on with their livelihoods and happy to wish their Jewish counterparts the same.
In Part 2, Dannehl dives deeper into Israeli military, farm, and food culture, meeting with an Arab gourmet chef who helms a cutting edge restaurant in Tel Aviv, talking to young Israeli Defence Force soldiers about how they view their nation’s foes and learning from diners of both nationalities the frank similarities between Israeli and Palestinian cuisine.
“We’re kind of the same people, you know? We love hummus, they love hummus…” (Go90
Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)
Finally, he returns to West Bank olive country, to the farm of Israeli olive oil maker Ayala Meir in order to attend a traditional kibbutz dinner, joined this time by Meir’s family and a number of their Palestinian friends from across the border wall.
Olive oil is culture. It brings people together. This is now the season that Jewish and Arabs and Muslims and Christians meet together. We all love this product. And it’s a way to know our neighbors. Actually an ancient olive tree is many individuals living in the same house. Every branch has a different root system. —Ayala Noy Meir
A toast to friends and neighbors. (Go90
Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)
The recent success of efforts like Olive Oil Without Borders, not to mention the more live-and-let-live worldview that can be found among younger citizens of both nations, gives the world a glimmer of hope that this, one of the thorniest conflicts in human history, may one day be no more than a story neighbors reminisce about around a communal dinner table.
Magic hour in occupied territory. (Go90
Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)
Anyone who’s ever deployed can tell you there’s more to worry about in the field than just the enemy. While of course the North Vietnamese were the primary concern of American troops in the Vietnam War, just being in the jungle presented an entirely unexpected series of its own challenges – like giant centipedes.
Rumors persisted about things like fragging, rampant drug use, and even the appearance of Bigfoot in Vietnam. But when US troops weren’t earning the Medal of Honor while completely stoned, they were fighting off things that only previously appeared in their nightmares.
As seen in the cover photo of this post, the creepy crawlers of the jungle have the space and the food necessary to grow to an insane level. That guy in the photo is Scolopendra subspinipes, also known as the Vietnamese centipede, Chinese redhead, or Jungle Centipede. It’s extremely aggressive, and its venomous bite hurts like hell, sources say. But the fun doesn’t stop with centipedes, giant scorpions were also known to bother American troops in bivouac.
Imagine you’re in some kind of tank or armored vehicle, busting down trees in the jungle when suddenly, you bust down the wrong tree, one filled with a nest of red ants. These buggers were reportedly immune to the issued bug spray and, given the choice between NVA small arms fire and dealing with red ants in the tank, tank crews would either bail on the tank or man the vehicle completely naked. They were often referred to as “communist ants” because they were red in color and never seemed to attack the Vietnamese.
Very pretty, but also what the KGB used to kill dissidents.
Troops in Vietnam were sometimes lifted right up out of troop carriers and other vehicles by low-hanging vines that seemed innocent at first, but as soon as they were touched, constricted around an unsuspecting driver, grabbing them by the arms or neck. They became known as the “wait-a-minute” vines. But that’s just the beginning.
Vietnam’s most beautiful trees and flowers are also its deadliest. Heartbreak Grass, Flame Lillies, Twisted Cord Flowers, and Bark Cloth Trees are all powerful enough to kill a human or cause blindness upon contact or accidental ingestion, which is more common than one might think.
Bring that flamethrower back over here.
You know what kinds of animals love a hot, humid place with lots of shade? Reptiles and amphibians, both of which Vietnam has in droves. Vietnam has so many snakes, American troops were advised to just assume they were all deadly – because most of them are. The country is filled with Cobras, Kraits, Vipers, and more. The snakes that weren’t venomous were all giant constrictors, still very capable of murdering you in your jungle sleep.
Yes, troops were mauled by tigers.
Since we’re talking about giant jungle snakes, we should discuss the other giant creatures that inhabit the wilds of Vietnam. Southeast Asia is also home to aggressive tiger species, leopards, and bears. Those are just the traditional predators. There are also elephants, water buffaloes, and gaurs, giant cows, who will go on a murder rampage that an M-16 isn’t likely to stop.
Some of the most consequential actors in past wars weren’t the soldiers storming the ramparts, the generals issuing orders, or even engineers who designed the weapons and armor necessary to win. Sometimes, wars were decided by much smaller combatants: bugs and worms.
Before the rapid increase in medical knowledge around World War II, parasites caused epidemics that claimed entire formations and tipped campaigns forcefully for one side to the other.
From the Revolutionary War to World War I, here are five times that pests defeated an army:
1. Constant fevers spread by mosquitoes crippled British forces in the Revolutionary War
Both British and American forces in the Revolutionary War scheduled offensives in the South around “the sickly season,” the hot summer months where mosquitoes and the diseases they spread were likely to claim hundreds or thousands of lives in an army on the march.
This slowed the progress of the British Army and forced it to fight at times it otherwise would not have. Patriots, who were less affected, capitalized by forcing battles when the British were sick and claiming victory when the British pulled out of diseased areas. By mid-1781, the generals were done fighting mosquitoes in the South and moved most of their forces north to Virginia.
2. Lice and typhus saved Russia from Napoleon
The Russian winter and the burning of Moscow get a lot of credit for destroying Napoleon Bonaparte’s army, but top honors should probably go to the Polish summer and the legions of lice it created in 1812. Lice secrete the typhus germ in their feces, and typhus causes severe fever, vomiting, and death.
When Napoleon and his 680,000 men went on the march into Russia, they had to cross through Poland and its lice epidemic. It was there that his men began to catch typhus which spread through the ranks. The disease and the resulting desertions as soldiers fled the infected camps took away half of Napoleon’s fighting force before he fought any major battles with the Russian Army.
3. Napoleon’s men also got whooped by mosquitoes and yellow fever
Before Napoleon’s Grande Armée fell to lice, a smaller force sent to Haiti – then known as Saint-Domingue – was destroyed by yellow fever carried by mosquitoes. The emperor sent 33,000 men to put down the government of Toussaint Louverture in Haiti and turn the island back into a French slave colony.
Unfortunately, the Haitians they would fight were largely inoculated to yellow fever, but the French were not. France initially gained the upper hand by recruiting support from factions in the Haitian forces. But the French lost 90 percent of their men to mosquitoes and the disease. When their local allies learned about the re-introduction of slavery and turned on the French, Napoleon recalled the survivors.
4. Civil War soldiers in the South were often afflicted with hookworm
Southerners before the Civil War had a reputation for being dimwitted and lazy, something doctors later found out was due to the epidemic levels of hookworm that existed there. Hookworms invade through bare feet or fingernail beds and spread throughout the human body where they can live for five years, causing malnutrition and exhaustion while slowing brain function.
5. Lice and typhus massacred the Russians in World War I
Seriously, body lice are just the worst. In World War I, every army had to deal with constant lice infestations. But most were lucky in that only more mild diseases like trench fever were spread. Typhus struck Serbia in 1914 though, and the disease spread across the Eastern Front.
A sandy white beach. Swaying palm trees. Cocktails made from coconut juice.
As frigid air and snowstorms whip across most of the U.S., service members may dream of trading their current duty station for an exotic Pacific paradise.
But they might want to think again, according to Bob Cunningham, a former Air Force radar operator whose first duty station was a tiny, oblong blister of land in the South China Sea. He knows it as North Danger Island.
For six months in 1956, Cunningham lived on a remote knob approximately 2,000 feet long and 850 feet wide in the Spratly Islands group located midway between the Philippine Islands and Vietnam. His home was a canvas tent and he manned radio and radar equipment for a secret Air Force project mapping the earth.
The mission was an aerial electronic geodetic survey. Specially equipped aircraft flew grid patterns and triangulated electromagnetic pulses sent between temporary ground stations hundreds of miles apart. The data, computed into highly accurate coordinates, would eventually provide targeting information for intercontinental ballistic missile development.
It was a ‘million dollar experience’ that he wouldn’t give two cents to repeat, Cunningham jokes today.
Not that it wasn’t an adventure, he admits.
Cunningham’s four-man team and all its equipment was helicoptered to the island from the deck of a Landing Ship, Tank (LST), along with the drinking water, fuel and rations the men would need to survive. Resupply occurred every 4-6 weeks by helicopter, supplemented by occasional parachute drops. A radio relay team of six Airmen had already established itself on the island and shared the same copse of trees.
“I was 22 years old. I was the kid on the island so it was a real experience,” Cunningham remembers. “I didn’t have a lot of sophistication psychologically, and that was a real psychological test for human beings, to be going like that.”
He was an Airman 2nd Class, a two-striper, with just over a year of service in the Air Force and some college education. His sergeants had seen combat during World War II and were wise to what the isolated team would endure. Their ingenuity, humor and direct leadership kept young Cunningham and the others on the island from mentally cracking.
To keep a low profile, the Airmen were ordered to stow their uniforms and wear civilian shorts and sneakers, sandals and cowboy hats instead.
The men also kept their pistols and M-1 Garand rifles ready, knowing that pirates and other possible threats roamed the waters surrounding them.
“The Chinese nationalists came by with a gun boat. A big, long vessel. Military. Chinese Navy,” Cunningham said. “And they had this big three-inch cannon on the front on a turret, and they swung that baby in toward our island, and they had some machine gun turrets, and pretty soon we saw boats come over the edge and some officers got on that and they came in to see who we were and what we were doing.”
The Airmen placed palm fronds along the beach to spell out U-S-A-F. The gunboat crew was satisfied and the standoff ended.
On another occasion, Okinawan fishermen came ashore to trade their fish for drinking water.
“They saw our 50-foot antenna that we put up for our radar set, our pulse radio, and so they were curious,” Cunningham said. “They came onboard and they were quite friendly.”
But visitors were the exception. Day after day, interaction was limited to within the tiny community of Airmen.
A feud between two staff sergeants took a bad turn when one threatened to kill the other.
Cunningham’s technical sergeant knew he had to step in and confront the enraged man. But first he warned Cunningham and the other radar operator that the situation could explode and that they might have to use their weapons.
“He said, ‘I’m calling him in here, I’m going to present this to him, our concern,'” Cunningham recalled. “‘If he gets up and breaks like I’ve seen a guy do it, he’ll run right over to the ground power tent where those guys live and he’ll just start shooting people.'”
Fortunately, there was no violence and the conflict was resolved.
“We had to stay up around the clock for a day or so to see what would happen in case we had to call for an SA-16 (amphibious flying boat) to come out with Air Police and come in and capture this guy, and we’re going to have to tie him up to a palm tree or something,” Cunningham said. “We didn’t know what was going to go on.”
The veteran sergeants kept up morale in other ways.
They improved the camp with funny signs, hand-made furniture and a wind-driven water pump. They cooked sea turtles for the men. And they improvised a way to make alcohol from coconut juice and cake mix.
Cunningham remembers the technical sergeant busy at his distillery ‘making moonshine.’ When the sergeant was asked why he was wearing his pistol, he replied that revenuers might come through and he couldn’t be interrupted.
That sense of humor was “what you really needed on a place like that to keep from cracking up,” Cunningham said.
For recreation, Cunningham would walk around the island and photograph the thousands of birds it attracted. He also tried diving off the reef once and became terrified by the absolute darkness.
“I opened up my eyes and it scared the bejeepers out of me,” he said. “It was total black. I couldn’t see anything. I got so danged scared, I came up and I got off and I got back to that reef and I never went back again.”
In the final month, he and the sergeant were the only humans left on the island. Two members of his team were evacuated. The radio relay team was relocated, taking their noisy generator with them. For the two men remaining, the silence at night was now ‘spooky’ – a lone coconut dropping from a tree was enough to send them scrambling for their weapons.
Cunningham’s experience on the reef forever changed how he relates to other people.
“I have an expression,” he said. “‘This guy sounds like a North Danger kind of guy,’ meaning somebody compatible, smart, you can get along with him, he’s got a good temper. Or this guy, I would not want to be with him on North Danger.”
Imagine one day you’re sitting along the coast of Northern England, taking a rest from farming in a bog, fishing, or whatever it was ancient villagers did up there back then. Chances are good you had a hard day of farming or catching fish and the end of the day was a welcome respite, even though you knew you’d probably have to go right back out and do the same thing the next day. But maybe you wouldn’t, because Viking raiders were going to burn everything you love and there’s nothing you could do about it.
That got real dark, real fast. Just like a Viking raid.
“It’s a special operation because we steal the gold and it becomes ours.”
They were like today’s special operators
Viking raids usually consisted of a small number of ships and limited manpower, headed for a very specific, small objective. They weren’t out to capture towns or topple governments, they wanted food, booty, women, plunder, gold… you get the idea. The effectiveness of their raids hinged very much on their ability to surprise the opposition. They would move just over the coastal horizon, with their sails drawn down to mask their approach. Once inland, they would hit hard and fast, leaving before reinforcements could be brought to bear.
There should be about 4,000 more arrows in this painting.
They weren’t trying to sink ships.
You can’t sell or reuse a sunken ship, after all. Though Viking naval combat was not very common, it happened. And like their land attacks, Viking longboats would swarm a target to overwhelm it, or they would attempt to ram the enemy in the open sea. Rather than have a distant naval battle, Vikings threw that doctrine out, preferring to move in close and kill the enemy crew with archers, hidden behind a hastily constructed shield wall.
Pictured: all the f*cks the Vikings gave for military doctrine.
In an age where tight formations and discipline in combat were all the rage, it was unlikely anyone expected a Viking horde to ambush their army as it marched through the woods. But here they were. Vikings used to lie in wait in the wooded areas along the roadsides, in order to get the drop on an enemy unit.
Shield Walls help.
Adapting to the battle quickly.
Even the best plan can get tossed out the window once the sh*t hits the fan. The Vikings weren’t perfect and would occasionally get their asses handed to them. On the occasion where that occurred, they adapted to the situation as quickly as they could. Once confronted by real opposition, raiders would take on infantry formations, especially the wedge, with berserks at the tip of the spear. They would then drive this into an enemy formation, negating the enemy’s use of their archers or other ranged weapons.
A book is a terrible defensive weapon.
Nothing was sacred. Sometimes literally.
These days, we talk about military norms that we all hold to be true – doctrine – as if it came from the gods themselves. Well, the Vikings didn’t care much for your gods or your doctrine and pretty much flaunted both. They shook off the sacrilege of sacking religious sites because religious sites are where the best loot was kept. They shook off the doctrine of combat formations, fighting seasons, and times to do battle because that’s when you were expecting them and it’s so much easier to surprise you.
“Reach out and crush someone.”
They wanted to get in close.
Many, many weapons of the middle ages were ranged weapons, designed to get into action at a distance and keep the enemy from smashing your squishy skull in. The longer one army could pummel another with arrows and boulders, the less likely their infantry or cavalry would die fighting. The Vikings, on the other hand, like the up-close-and-personal touch of smashing in your squishy skull and designed their battle tactics to get all up in your face, scare the crap out of you, and either kill you or make you run away.
On June 6, 1944, the free men of the world joined together to liberate Europe from the clutches of Hitler. One of these men was 23-year-old Jim “Pee Wee” Martin. A paratrooper in G Company, 3rd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Martin was one of the original 101st Airborne troopers who went through jump school at Camp Toccoa, Georgia. It was during his airborne training that Martin received the nickname “Pee Wee” for his small stature. He went on to fight with the Screaming Eagles in Normandy, Operation Market Garden, and the Battle of the Bulge. During WWII, he earned the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. In April 2021, Martin celebrated his 100th birthday with a massive jump fest near his hometown of Xenia, Ohio.
One of the last surviving “Toccoa Men”, Martin’s birthday is April 29. To facilitate the festivities, his birthday celebration was held over the weekend from April 23-25. Distinguished guests in attendance included Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Engler of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment. Other 101st Airborne veterans, all of whom are over 90, showed up to celebrate their brother in arms’ birthday.
The Commemorative Air Force also supported the festivities with restored WWII planes. Using two Douglas C-47 Skytrains and a C-53 Skytrooper, the CAF conducted a flyover and mass parachute drop with reenactors on all three days. After the main drop, tandem parachuting was opened to the public as well.
On the evening of April 24, Martin was presented with multiple gifts and awards. Notably, the city of Xenia declared April 29 as Jim “Pee Wee” Martin Day in honor of his WWII service. Martin also served as an advisor on Band of Brothers, the HBO miniseries that made the 101st Airborne a household name.
Despite the weekend of festivities dedicated to him, Martin remains humble. He places emphasis on the achievements of his unit. “The Airborne, that patch got you any place you wanted to go and you didn’t have to lie or anything like that,” Martin said. “All you had to do is see that patch and people knew what you’d been doing. I’m very proud of the service that we did, and it’s not an individual thing about me; it’s what the unit did. I don’t go off of individuals.”
Martin also shared words of wisdom with the new generation of 101st troopers. “My advice is go in there, work hard, do everything right, don’t make any missteps, and remember this: all of us older guys are looking to you.”
During his second tour in Vietnam, Capt. Jay R. Vargas was the commanding officer of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment about to lead his men into the enemy-infested area of Dai Do in the Republic of Vietnam.
While north along the DMZ, the Vietnamese 320th Infantry Division were on their way south with thousands of well-trained enemy troops.
Upon marching his Marines down to their base camp, hundreds of rounds of artillery flooded around Vargas’ position — but the Marines managed to reach their destination around 4 a.m.
After marching all night, two riverboats picked the tired Marines up and shipped them up the river toward Dai Do. Soon after boarding, the enemy began to fire. Vargas’ battalion commander instructed him to push on through the firing lanes once they’ve arrived.
After reaching the river’s bank, the Marines were already pinned down by heavy machine gun, but that didn’t stop Vargas coming up with a plan.
“Give me four Marines, we’re going to go take the machine guns,” Vargas recalls.
As they moved forward, the Marines took fire, wounding them instantly — leaving Vargas by himself.
On his own, Vargas knocked out three machine guns and killed 14 enemy troops, which reopened a clear lane for the Marines to safely move up.
Vargas momentarily believed he had secured the area, but the NVA decided to counter-attack. The enemy troops managed to force the Marines into a nearby cemetery — cutting them off from resupply.
The North Vietnamese began to pound heavily on Vargas’ Marines’ position. Surrounded and down to only 80 Marines, Vargas believed the end was near.
“We were surrounded and cut-off completely,” Vargas said. “The only way to survive was to dig up those graves and toss the bodies out.”
Vargas’ Marines did as he commanded and removed body after body before taking position in the graves to seek cover.
Feeling as if he wasn’t going to make it out alive, Adm. John McCain (Sen. John McCain’s father), the U.S. Pacific Command commander in chief encouraged Vargas to press on over the tact line. McCain quickly made Vargas and his Marines’ survival a priority.
Naval gunships blanketed Vargas perimeter with artillery, killing countless enemy troops as the Marines sheltered themselves in the mass grave site.
After three long days of fighting, the enemy made their last stand and once again counter-attacked the tired and wounded Marines. Vargas’ battalion commander moved into his grave as he was shot three times in the back by the enemy.
Vargas felt like he had no choice but to call artillery onto his position. After using three headsets to coordinate multiple sources of incoming fire, Vargas dragged is severely wounded battalion commander over a hundred yards to a covered area while the airstrikes were coming in hot.
Soon after the airstrikes ended. The enemy forces were silenced.
Vargas recalls that his older brothers — who also served in the Corps — gave him three golden rules to live by.
Always set a good example.
Take care of your men.
Never ask a Marine to do something you wouldn’t do yourself.
Capt. Jay R. Vargas was awarded the Medal of Honor on May 14, 1970, for his heroic acts in Vietnam.
You might think that legendary fighter planes like the F4U Corsair and P-51 Mustang saw their last action in the Korean War.
It seems like a reasonable assumption – but it’d be dead wrong.
Believe it or not, the last combat those planes saw came around the time that F-4 Phantoms and MiG-21s were fighting for air superiority over North Vietnam, and Israeli Mirages and Neshers took on the air forces of Egypt, Syria, and other Arab countries.
In 1969, El Salvador and Honduras went to war. It lasted about 100 hours, and started less than three weeks after the end of a contentious qualifying series for the 1970 World Cup.
Dubbed the “Soccer War,” the fighting left nearly 3,200 people dead, both military and civilian.
Notable was that it was the last combat action that some legendary planes would see. The war started when El Salvador began its attacks — a makeshift affair with passenger planes being modified to carry bombs for the first strikes. El Salvadoran troops followed the strikes and pushed into Honduras.
Honduras at the time had 19 F4U Corsairs in its inventory, along with 6 AT-6 Texan attack planes. El Salvador had 11 P-51D Mustangs in service, plus some that upgraded Cavalier Mustangs. They had 25 F4U/FG-1 Corsairs in service as well.
During the fighting, Honduran Corsairs downed a P-51 and two Corsairs, gained air superiority over the battlefield, and began pushing the invaders back. Anti-aircraft fire claimed two more Salvadoran Mustangs, while two P-51s were lost in a mid-air collision.
Two Salvadoran Corsairs were also shot down by ground fire.
When all was said and done, the Organization of American States intervened to arrange for a cease-fire. The war ended with a status quo ante bellum. Today, both Air Forces operate A-37B Dragonfly attack planes (15 for El Salvador, 10 for Honduras), but Honduras also has nine F-5E Tiger II fighters. Honduras and El Salvador took over a decade to sign a formal peace treaty, but the underlying tensions remain in that region.
While the disputes that lead to the Soccer War have not been resolved, the Soccer War did give some legends one last chance to serve.